Do you support the findings of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education? Are you committed to funding associated reforms, and if so, how?
Johns: While I strongly disagree with the rationale that was discussed by the commission for potentially eliminating the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI), overall I have high hopes for the group’s work. I hope they will come out in favor of increasing the state’s commitment to capital investment in new and renovated schools, that they will support funding levels that truly allow all public schools to perform their core mission successfully, and - particularly in economically disadvantaged - that they will recommend much more comprehensive wraparound services. Strong support for community schooling in higher need districts is critical in my view. Bringing social and support services into the school environment not only provides greater access to children who really need them, it also helps educators focus on teaching and creating a successful classroom environment - rather than having to try and provide these other services that they are not trained or resourced for. It also creates a hub for other positive influence throughout the community. I also hope that the Commission’s recommendations on supporting and developing teachers/administrators come with a realistic approach to how much money needs to be invested in this effort. A nice set of goals that tries to avoid costing too much would be a disappointment. Finally, I hope the benchmarking process that is developed is careful to assess schools in a way that does not chronically undermine institutions and systems in less economically advantaged areas.
Is Maryland’s transportation spending appropriately balanced between roads and transit? Does the state have the resources to meet its transportation needs? With the cancellation of the Red Line and the advent of BaltimoreLink, is the Baltimore region adequately served by transit?
Johns: No, the Baltimore region is NOT adequately served by public transit. The cancellation of the Red Line was a devastating blow to the city and, in my opinion, should not have been the case. I grew up in Baltimore City and still own a house there, so I am all too aware of how inadequate the road maintenance in the region is and how frustrating the rather abrupt switch-over the BaltimoreLink system was for many residents. I believe that we, as a state, need to invest in maintaining our existing roadways, carefully considering which proposed future roadway construction should be funded, and putting a premium on public transportation throughout the state. This latter concern is the future of so much of our state spending on transportation spending and we must utilise our resources wisely, prioritising projects with the most significant impact on the most number of residents. In Montgomery County, where I live and am seeking elected office, that means a dedicated funding stream for Metro, which the General Assembly just passed. I will defer to local officials in the Baltimore region as to how best organise their funding priorities, but this is not an issue that we can ignore.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Johns: Yes. One of the core platforms of my campaign in full legalisation of marijuana. I am myself a medical marijuana patient and advocate for legalisation. I believe we should use the taxation profits from a legal marijuana industry to create a dedicated funding stream for education and school construction. While bills to legalize marijuana have previously been introduced in the General Assembly, I believe there needs to be additional amendments to the bill requiring that the 50% of the tax revenues currently proposed to be earmarked for school be increased to 60% and that requires this revenue to be IN ADDITION TO, not as a supplement for, the state’s required education contribution based on the school funding-formula. This requirement was not included in the legislation that legalized gambling in Maryland and as a result the state has used revenue from the gambling fund to meet the state’s required contribution, rather than as an additional revenue stream. I also support expungement for those previously convicted of possessing small (non-dealer levels) of marijuana.
At a time when the federal government’s commitment to Chesapeake Bay restoration is questionable, what new steps should Maryland take to protect this resource?
Johns: I support the continuation and enhancement of all current policies promoting cleaner water, reduction of algae blooms, and rejuvenation of shellfish populations. We are failing to meet our targets in part because we have not had the needed, tough conversations about commercial agriculture and storm-water run-off. I support smart growth and will fight fiercely for sensible regulations on impervious surfaces for any new development and to hold county decision makers accountable to environmental mitigation that is not just lip-service but grounded in science. In Annapolis, I will not shy away from taking the fight to the poultry industry and other major polluters. Additionally, we are part of a watershed, not an isolated ecosystem. We must find ways to work with lawmakers in neighboring states. to enact common sense solutions that get us back on track to a clean Bay. I support policies that require new developments to incorporate green infrastructure – specifically, including things such as roof parks to reduce stormwater runoff, cisterns for capturing rainwater to decrease runoff & for use in gardening, and the expansion of riparian buffer zones on new developments near waterfronts and/or with a high proportion of impervious services. The usage of porous surfaces should also be incentivized. I also support the Stormwater & Nutrient Credit Training, enacted with a comprehensive, clearly defined regulation structure at the state level in order to allow for credit trading.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Johns: I support single payer healthcare. Maryland is actually significantly further along the road to single payer than most states with our ‘all payer’ model which currently allows for the state to negotiate with major providers and institutions to set costs. I believe that expanding the breadth of this system carefully over the next few years would make Maryland a great case study in how states’ can move toward true single payer systems even without increased support for the idea from the federal government. The reality is that while single payer would bring some cost savings efficiencies through negotiating power, it will also increase the costs to the state. As a proud progressive I am not afraid to say that the trade-off may mean raising certain sources of tax revenue. I would look forward to working closely with experienced colleagues and knowable budget experts to find the smartest models for beginning an expansion in this direction, but I think it’s important to be honest with voters that the huge advantages of a single payer system will probably also mean everyone contributing to the costs – ideally through a progressive, not a regressive tax.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Johns: Violent crime in Baltimore is inextricably linked to lack of economic opportunity and social mobility. There are not easy levers for government to tackle all of the facets of this problem, but there is one clear obligation on the state: education. We need guaranteed universal pre-k for all children in Maryland, and we need a dramatic increase in support for community schools with comprehensive wraparound support services in Baltimore City. Evidence supporting the impact of these programs is overwhelming, and every day that we reduce another child’s chances of success in life by not finding the funding for them is a shameful tragedy. How to deal with the day to day issue of violent crime right now? The Baltimore police department and court system struggle from chronic underfunding. The state could do more to help close the gaps that undermine the effectiveness of routine law enforcement.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Johns: I would characterize Maryland’s business climate as ‘underperforming.’ Given our geography, the demographics of our population, and our access to global transportation hubs, I believe we could do much better. Again, this is a challenging policy question, though. I don’t believe the answer is simply to try and race to the bottom on corporate taxes and incentive packages to lure big employers to Maryland. Instead, I think we need to double down on supporting our homegrown knowledge economy. I know, first hand as a former researcher at the University of Maryland, that the state could do far more to support investment in startups and public private partnerships in the biotech and biomedical industries, as well as many others in which we already have leading intellectual talent right here. We have the potential to be the silicon valley of the medical technology field as a state, but we are failing to move aggressively enough to capitalize on our advantages. In Annapolis, I would be focused on strategies the state can take to make Maryland the best state to start a knowledge-based startup company and attract the biggest employers in the fields we already have strength in – rather than doing what the legislature has authorized for the Amazon HQ2 package – which frankly feels like a fire sale.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Johns: Yes, I believe that both congressional and legislative district lines should be changed. The creation of these districts should be the purview of an independent, nonpartisan commission.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Johns: No, I don’t believe that it presently does adequately balance protections for police and the public. In my opinion, there needs to be more civilian oversight.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Johns: I believe that we need to address the opioid crisis on two fronts. First off, we need to recognise that addition is a physical disease. And this means taking steps to provide those who are addicted to opioids with every available resource, including safe injection sites. We also need to recognise the crucial role that medication therapy can play in helping those addicted to opioids transition to sobriety. There is far too much stigma surrounding methadone and other non-narcotic opioid medication therapies as ‘just trading one drug for another’ and that is emphatically and scientifically NOT the reality of the situation. These medications are incredibly helpful to those trying to get off of opioid drugs and we should be supporting and advocating for increased access to them, rather than contributing to the stigmatisation and ghettoisation of these proven treatment options.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Johns: Honestly, the vast majority of what can conceivably be done to address income inequality would have to happen at the federal, rather than the state, level. However, there are important things that CAN be done at the state level – the most crucial of which is fully funding the Child Care Subsidy Program. I believe early childhood education is a critical social justice issue. We must ensure that this program is made a true priority to fund the CCSP at a level that eliminates wait lists and pays a living wage to childcare workers. I fully support a diverse system for providing universal pre-K, including family childcare/childcare centers in diverse formats including these and nursery schools, Montessori schools, religious schools, co-ops, as well as part time and half day programs that families in their unique ways. I will make it a priority not only to fully fund the state Child Care Subsidy Program, but to pass the $15/hour minimum wage bill – with indexing to reflect the cost of inflation - that will ensure that childcare providers are compensated at the level commensurate with their important role in our society. I also support an indexing provision to ensure that the minimum wage at least keeps pace with inflation in the future.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Johns: I believe that the current laws are adequate, but there is always room for improvement and I would be happy to push for additional public oversight in Annapolis.